Amalfi Coast, Italy

My post from the Amalfi Coast

IMG_9491To quote my friend, Anna Moyer: “It’s hard to overstate the beauty of the Amalfi coast.”  On the bus, every hairpin turn was breathtaking.  You’re incredibly high up from the waters below, and the towns living in the mountainside are beautiful as they peak around each curve in the road.

We arrived in Positano after an early morning flight and two crowded SITA buses, yet time stood still for the rest of the day as we explored the many nooks and crannies of this dreamy place.  Positano is full of numerous staircases, and long winding roads, that will do a number on your calves.  We took a very, very leisurely pace the entire time as this was Corey’s first trip since Tignes.

Near the main docks, there were numerous linen boutiques, sandal shops, and limoncello grocers.  Lemons are big here- not just in popularity but also in size.  I also loved the stores selling ceramic-ware painted with bright lemons against navy on all sorts of bowls and platters.

We dipped our toes in the super clear water, and took a nap on the pebbly beach late in the afternoon, before making the trek back up to the local Trattoria.

The streets are lovely as you can see.  Many of them are draped with wisteria or have brightly painted building.  We imagined how crowded it must feel in the summer as you can barely walk two by two on the narrow lanes.  On the street sides, single file is a must so you aren’t nipped by a local bus or scooter.  I couldn’t stop taking pictures around every twist and turn.


This morning, I tried running stairs to get the day started but I only lasted about twenty minutes.  The Positano steps kicked my butt, but there is no photographic evidence as I could barely breathe, no less snap a selfie!  Wouldn’t an early lunch be a better idea?  Corey found Fattoria La Tagliata, a true gem, up towards the town of Nocelle.  I wanted to visit Nocelle as this is where the Il Sentiero degli Dei (Path of The Gods) trailhead starts/ends, but honestly, if you didn’t want to hike, then I’d still highly suggest a trip to this restaurant as your main activity for the day.  It felt like the Italian grandmother-chefs were picking young garlic right out of the garden to use for our family style meal (and later we discovered there was a mini-farm outside!)  You arrive on the terrace and three small plates with a bottle of house wine are immediately brought to your table. There is no need for a menu.  Prego!!!

We didn’t do the Path of the Gods as it was too strenuous for my kidney-healing man, but we did take the bus to Nocelle so that I could at least say I saw the entrance to the path.  If we return to the coast, I’ll be bringing a solid pair of hiking boots.

The remainder of the day was spent on the small terrace in our hotel room just taking in the gorgeous scenery and reviving my blog (or ‘slog’ as Corey has taken to calling it as it’s majorly delayed in posts (slow + blog= slog).  Better yet, wait for the exclusive to Corey’s blog- or ‘clog’- coming out…. TBD 🙂


Day three took us on a day trip to Amalfi, another town just a thirty minute boat ride along the coast.  The town has a smaller beach, but a livelier square and Duomo.

Visitors can enter the crypts and cathedral for a mere three Euro to see the Monumental Complex of St. Andrew.  We had a seaside lunch followed by a gelato cone (I found the sorbet yogurt flavor and felt very satisfied).  We didn’t indulge in the fried seafood cones along the way, but did some window shopping for linen, leather and limoncello.

We caught another crowded SITA bus up to Ravello, a very pretty town, high up in the cliffs.  Suggestion for SITA straphangers: buy your round trip tickets at the tabacchi shop, and get to the busstop early.  We were visiting in April when it’s less crowded and still felt the pushing and shoving to climb aboard.  Though SITA looks like our version of a charter bus, they line people up into the aisles like a local city bus.

Ravello was as picturesque as ever, and we spent a majority of our time in the Villa Cimbrone, an exclusive hotel with gardens that are open to the public.  The wisteria that hang down along the walk and the stunning views of the Mediterranean made it well worth the 7 Euro.

On the way back from the gardens, we opted for Mimi Bar Pizzeria for a quick meal before our Ravello Piano Concert.  Jackpot!!! The pizza crust was chewy and delicious, and it was the best pasta with ‘sea fruit’ (clams and mussels) I had on the entire trip!!! I can’t say enough good stuff. The trip advisor reviews in the link below don’t have enough exclamation points to do the restaurant justice. We will definitely return if we are in Ravello for more red sauce and seafood.

Ravello’s Concert Hall offers weekly concerts in a small venue with great acoustics.  If you’re into classical music, this would be a must see.  This is illustrated by the fact that we ran into one of Corey’s colleagues while waiting for the concert to start!  She had heard similar reviews of Ravello’s concert society and made sure to stop in as well.  Giuseppe Di Bianco’s piano recital concluded our already peaceful afternoon.  Unfortunately, after the limoncello at intermission, we had to leave to catch the last bus to Amalfi and Positano.  Stepping out into the quiet stone paths after hearing a talented musician made for a great evening.  Add to this, the local church was holding their Good Friday procession, complete with babies dressed as angels, and a candle lit parade.


We left Positano mid morning and spent the day wandering the new, flatter streets of Sorrento.  The area feels a bit less ‘beach-vacationy’ as the beach is much smaller here, though the waters are just as clear blue when you look over the edge of the boulevards. It’s easy to take day trips from Sorrento as well so there is a city/ transport feeling, in my opinion.

There’s more affordable shopping here, and more space for outdoor eateries. We didn’t find a great lunch spot, but we didn’t find a lovely linen shop where the gentlemen dressed Corey to the nines! The fashionista spirit of Italy is still strong though we were many miles from Milan.  We were offered delicious samples at Nino and Friends, a souvenir shop featuring local treats.  I found a purse that I couldn’t resist, and then we made our way to the grocery store to ensure we had provisions for Easter Sunday and Monday.  We learned that many restaurants would be closed or would have limited hours for the holiday so it was time to stock up for an Easter picnic.  Would you believe we met a family from Ewing at the grocery store!?  Corey has a magnet for meeting people around the world!  While he reminisced about dirty Jersey highlights with two college-aged siblings, I purchased mortadella, parma ham, olives and artichoke hearts with their mom.  Her son is studying abroad in Germany, and he and his sister bought their mom a ticket to travel to Italy for the first time on their spring break.

Dinner was around the corner from our hotel, and the fish of the day with homemade pasta was a major thumbs up.  We also spotted many tables sharing multiple pizzas so it seems you can’t make a bad choice at Il Convivio.


Since Sorrento is a hub for day trips, we caught an early train to Pompeii and Erculano to see the historical ruins created by Mt. Vesuvius.  On Easter Sunday, the trains stop running at 1pm so we did a quick tour at each site, and promised to read up on these when we had more time.  You can see just how intricate the cities must have been, and Ercolano still had paintings on the walls as well!

We ventured into the side streets of Ercolano and saw Easter parades with flags and traditional dress.  The slight drizzle couldn’t stop the celebrations and chants. I wondered how much I should be considering that Mt. Vesuvius is still an active volcano even though we were most likely just hearing thunder rolling in with the rain clouds.

We found a serious bakery selling Easter treats and gelato. Yes, of course, we joined in with the purchasing of pastries and spun gelato cones, even in the rain.

We enjoyed our picnic lunch by the hotel pool and spent the remainder of the grey afternoon between the hotel lobby tethered to wifi and the hotel bar for a beer and wine happy hour.

Dinner was at Ristorante Bagni Delfino, a restaurant right on the docks that was open on Easter Sunday.  The staff was incredibly nice, and I must say the gratis pre-dinner prosecco was a nice touch.  After the sun set, the main square in Sorrento still felt lively, with many people out celebrating the holiday.  Everyone was dressed up and out with kids and loved ones, treating themselves to gelato or just enjoying the night lights.


For our last full day on the coast, we caught an early boat out to the Isle of Capri.  We hit a bump in the road, or should I say, a bump in the waves, as they felt reminiscent to the waves on our Thailand trip. Corey soothed me by telling me the waves were not nearly as rocky as we’d experienced before (which was true), and that we were ‘almost there’ numerous times even when we weren’t.  I admittedly found myself pumped with more adrenaline than I’d expected while on the boat so getting back on solid ground was a good start to being on the island.  Truthfully, the views didn’t compare to Positano, Amalfi or Ravello as we took the uphill walk to the town center. High end shops and small cafes line Piazza Umberto, the main plaza, where you’ll find many day-trippers.

We wandered to the Giardini di Augusto to look out on the Faraglioni, two distinct rock formations in the true blue sea.  Unfortunately, there weren’t boats being allowed into the Grotta Azzurra, as the waves were too choppy.  We hear the magnificent blue ocean is supposed to be unreal in this cavern.

We sat along the garden walls with our parma, olives, tomatoes, pesto and bread picnic lunch as many of the Capri eateries are expensive.  Corey treated himself to a ‘Capri Special’ drink: fresh orange juice with lemon granita.  It dawned on me that Capri Sun must be based on this very juice!  We traveled back down to the Marina Grande on the funicolar, a train that goes straight up and down the hill on one track (just like the one on the snowy mountains of Tignes).

O’ Parrucchiano had the most stunning ambiance.  It felt like dining in a magical citrus grove, and I asked that Corey propose to me again because it was such a fairytale.  Stick to the seafood dishes as my veal Milanese wasn’t much to write home about.  As we walked home from dinner, teems of people were spilling out of Gelateria Primavera so we had to try it…When in Rome? (the saying still applies even in Southern Italy, right?)



Naples

A few people told us to skip Naples–that it wasn’t worth dedicating a night of our trip here.  But we liked seeing the different personality of this city.  Yes, it’s grittier than any locale on the Amalfi coast, but it’s also the third largest city in Italy.  It’s a mix of graffitied walls, and quaint restaurants, with neighborhoods that are definitely showing signs of change in many ways.

Our first day of walking was close to Piazza Dante.  The neighborhood lanes had two sides. The main strip, Via Dei Tribunali, was lined with pizza shops, souvenirs booths, and churches offering tours of the underground cities of Naples.  Off this main drag were dollar stores, tobacco carts, and drabber alleys brightened only with hanging laundry.

The central duomo’s interior was beautiful, and the plaza in front was a hangout for teens, and boys playing futbol. We participated in a slightly uneventful tour of the San Lorenzo Maggiore Scavi Museo to see the ancient market buried below the foundation of the church.  The fact that Naples has underground tunnels, markets, and piazzas is really neat, but the tour wasn’t too exciting…more of a tourist trap upon reflection.

Via Toledo is full of commercial shops like H&M and Adidas but this huge street does lead you right down to the water.  We stopped for a caffè nocciolato at Il Vero Bar del Professore, a cafe renowned for rich hazelnut cream coffee.  Before heading to the seaside, you pass the gorgeous Basilica Real Pontificia San Francesco da Paola.  Cars aren’t able to drive along the waterfront (Via Caracciolo and Via Partenope) and it was nice to see joggers in the evening, and friends strolling along enjoying the views of Capri and Mt Vesuvius in the distance (we were sure we were looking at one of these!)

We passed Castel dell’Ovo, a fort-looking castle jutting right out on the waves.  Taking a right up past the huge waterfront hotels takes you to the Chiaia neighborhood. This is an area that feels completely different from the lanes we’d walked earlier in the day. There are boutiques and fine art galleries.  I’d read that we should visit a wine bar with a rooftop but before we found it, we passed BISI.  The owners swept us up before we could say no and they were terrific. The cocktails were perfect, especially since they were keen to create something based on our personal taste. With each drink, you’re served a board of small snacks done incredibly well. Apparently, the owners also have another spot called Trip which we will hit up on our next visit to Naples.

We still hadn’t had dinner but it was good that we had emptier stomachs for our meal at Tandem.  They are known for their rich meat ragu and meatballs.  I loved the checkered tablecloths in the intimate space.


 

 

It was amazing to see Corey’s energy returning each day. For our final day in Italy, he were up for more walking.  We took the funicular up to the Castel Sant’ Elmo to see the view of the entire city.

We visited the Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Donnaregina, or Madre, a contemporary art museum listed in the 36 Hours in Naples article. The entrance makes you feel like you’re in a funhouse.  We saw large walls highlighting art with one off kilter photograph, or a large circle with abstract scribbles.  I liked the gallery dedicated to imago mundi, a set of published books.  The works are voluntary and published in a collection to show contemporary art from countries all over the world.

By noon, it was time to brave the crowds to see if we could get a table at Pizzeria Gino Sorbillo.  If you’re in the birthplace of pizza, this is one of the most popular places to dine.  We arrived at twelve on the dot, and we were seated immediately–lucky us!  It definitely lived up to its reputation, and I even had a few bites with cheese to get the real experience.  A YUMMY last meal!!! It’s worth noting that there is another Sorbillo down the block, but it’s easy to tell the difference as there are swarms of people outside of the best one.

My summary for this trip: I can’t wait to visit Italy again! Neither can Corey. Check him out feelin’ good.

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Quickshot:

Positano (and the small town of Nocelle)

  • Eat at Fattoria La Tagliata (this is a 20 min bus ride outside of Positano so get yourself a bus timetable). Fattoria means farm, but I thought it could be a hint that you’ll gain weight after eating here….’fat’toria…get it?
  • Give yourself 4-5 hours for the Walk of the Gods (there are many other websites so if this one doesn’t suit you, no worries)
  • Spend an evening at a local trattoria- this is a more laid back vibe, less formal than a ristorante;  any locals can point you in the right direction. We enjoyed C’era Una Volte, up about 200 steps from our hotel.
  • Get lost in the shopping lanes and winding roads of Positano- no maps needed.  Just take in the views when you need a break.

Amalfi

  • Yes to gelato. All of it will be good.
  • See the Duomo di Amalfi (crypts and cathedral for a quick 3 euro)
  • Boat travel seemed optimal for a day trip to many of the coastal towns. Just make sure to check when the last boat leaves.

Ravello

Sorrento

  • Eat at Il Convivio (pizzeria and ristorante)
  • Walk to the seaside and sit on the docks on a sunny day
  • Eat at O’ Parrucchiano to feel like you’re in a fairytale grove
  • Shop at bottega21 for a bag or wallet or glasses case
  • Walk the main cobblestone lane to Nino and Friends for generous samples of Sorrento treats… even if you don’t have room in your suitcase

Napoli Food Suggestions

  • Apertivos must be at BISI– the owners are too good to their guests!
  • Eat at Tandem for ragu (make a reservation if you can)
  • For pizza, the first choice is Pizzeria Gino Sorbillo (Via dei Tribunali, 32). I’ve also heard that Da Michele is tasty and a close walk nearby if you didn’t want to wait.
  • Il Vero Bar del Professore for a coffee pitstop (Piazza Trieste e Trento)
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